Georgia’s defense needs to shine, because that’s why Smart is here

Georgia coach Kirby Smart needs a stronger performance from his defense in the SEC championship against Auburn than the last time the Bulldogs met the Tigers.

Credit: Daniel Shirey

Credit: Daniel Shirey

Georgia coach Kirby Smart needs a stronger performance from his defense in the SEC championship against Auburn than the last time the Bulldogs met the Tigers.

One unavoidable truth about football is that for as much as the sport has evolved with spread offenses, disguised intentions and schemes seemingly crafted in a windowless offices in jet-propulsion labs, most games usually still comes down to punching the other guy in the mouth. Or something to that effect.

Block. Tackle.

Words that have been attributed to both Vince Lombardi and Duffy Daugherty still ring loudly: “Football isn't a contact sport; it's a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.”

Sometimes, so do the words of Dick Butkus: “When I played pro football, I never set out to hurt anyone deliberately -- unless it was, you know, important, like a league game or something.”

The last time Georgia played Auburn, the Bulldogs attempted to waltz, and the Tigers knocked them over like wrecking balls.

Georgia was physically beaten on both lines of scrimmage. The domination of the Dogs’ offensive line was only a little surprising. It’s a young unit that starts two freshmen and wasn’t expected to be a strength this season. The line had not been severely tested all season, and the talents of running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel probably skewed reality on several Saturdays.

But the extent to which Auburn's offensive line pounded Georgia's defensive front was stunning. This is a group that enabled the Bulldogs to rank among the nation's leaders in most statistical categories all season.

Fresh "We Never Played The Game" podcast with former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley on almost transferring, the 2005 SEC title and this week's game: Link here

Here’s how Auburn’s offensive output in a 40-17 shellacking contrasts with the season averages of Georgia’s defense: 40 points (13.8), 237 rushing yards (112.5), 488 total yards (271.9), 25 first downs (14.3).

“We got whupped. We got it handed to us,” said Lorenzo Carter, who was so stunned immediately after the game that he struggled to even speak in interviews.

“It sucks to have that feeling leaving the field. That’s one of our rivals. Just losing a game like that, I felt horrible. It’s motivation to just not want to feel that away again.”

Kirby Smart was brought to Athens for games like this. He was a part of championship defenses at Alabama and LSU under Nick Saban.

It’s true, as Smart said the other day, that Georgia needs to improve on offense and defense to defeat Auburn in the rematch in the SEC Championship game. But it’s mostly about defense because that’s his area of expertise and that’s generally how Alabama won all of those championships.

This weekend's SEC Championship Game matchup between Georgia and Auburn is the seventh SEC title game to have two teams who played in the regular season.

We can't possibly know how the Bulldogs' offensive line or freshman quarterback Jake Fromm will perform in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. But defense was expected to be Georgia's strength all season, and that defense was humiliated in Jordan-Hare Stadium three weeks ago.

“We have to tackle better, we have to keep our edges better and we have to run the ball better on offense,” Smart said. “In the end a lot has to be better than just our defensive line.”

The fact SEC West teams have won eight consecutive conference title games has somehow become a talking point this week. But this isn’t about geography.

“The most physical team usually wins,” Smart said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s SEC, East, West, crossover games, championships. It just so happens that the teams from the West have controlled the line of scrimmage more than the teams from the East.”

The last meeting between the teams swung on two sequences. Georgia was called for roughing the kicker on an Auburn punt in the second quarter, extending a drive that led to a touchdown and a 16-7 lead. A fumbled punt in the third quarter set up another touchdown to make the score 23-7.

So the defense was put in a bad position twice. But the Bulldogs also allowed an average gain of 6.9 yards per play (to Georgia’s 3.8). There’s your analytics.

The defense was beaten down for four scoring drives of 70-plus yards, including a 13-play, 77-yard field-goal drive in the fourth quarter that consumed six minutes and 59 seconds. They allowed five plays of 30-plus yards, including a 55-yard touchdown on a screen pass, a 42-yard touchdown pass and a 30-yard run by receiver Eli Stove around end.

“I just feel like we short-changed ourselves,” defensive back Aaron Davis said. “We left too much out there.”

Auburn players danced on the sideline. Fans chanted, “Overrated.”

“They were winning, so there’s not much you can say when someone’s beating you,” Carter said. “There’s not many times when you get a chance to redeem yourself.”

Carter’s team was given that chance when he played at Norcross High School. His team was slammed by North Gwinnett 36-17 in the 2013 regular season but went to the playoffs and eventually won the Class AAAAAA state title, beating North Gwinnett in the championship game 31-14.

“That was sweet,” he said.

Georgia needs that kind of turnaround against Auburn, especially on defense. Because in the end, football is still about who wins the collision.ghh

• Fresh "We Never Played The Game" podcast with former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley on almost transferring to Florida State, 2005 SEC title and this week's game: Link here.

• More on Kirby Smart: My exclusive pre-season Q&A with Smart via AJC and Dawgnation.

Subscribe to the,We Never Played The Game” podcast with the AJC's Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes or on the new AJC sports podcasts page.